It’s another Chuck Chaykin, Bounty Hunter! adventure. I wasn’t feeling all that creative today. Around 600 words or so I realized I used pretty much the same premise tonight as I did a couple days ago. Hmm.
A little over 900 words. I really need a name for Chuck’s ship.
Chuck Chaykin and the Pirates of Kallaris Point
The starport suspended at the edge of the Kallaris VII star system, officially title Kallaris Point, had seen better days. Chaykin didn’t know how rust could form in deep space, but Kallaris Point had managed it. The airlocks groaned and screeched at every opportunity. The oxygen scrubbers only worked at half capacity, lending a stale smell and taste to the air on board. The station never seemed to have any hot running water, and a third of the corridors were shut down for maintenance at any given time. Their connection to the stellar networks was spotty, so sometimes they’d get flight plans and knew to expect visits, and sometimes not. Worst of all, the bars served some of the worst homemade swill this side of the Antares border. As Chaykin guided his ship toward the number five docking pylon, he wondered absently if they’d cleared the barnacles off the outer hull yet.
“Still no response,” Val called from her station to Chaykin’s left. Her hair was purple this week.
“Their network must be down again,” growled Chaykin. He slowed the ship—crashing into a docking collar that wasn’t looking for them would do no one any good.
“No, I mean, no response at all,” Val said. She stepped up beside his flight console and peered out the front port. The sprawling collection of hull plates and girders that comprised Kallaris Point slowly rotated just ahead. “Nothing on the comm., but I’m not hearing anything from in there, either.”
Despite its condition, Kallaris point hosted a crew of several dozen, and a few hundred merchants, mercenaries, and scouts called the place home. Visiting traffic alone could account for upwards of another thousand a day. A telepath, Val should be picking up all sorts of stray thoughts, even at this distance.
Chaykin frowned and for the first time really scrutinized the station. Several other ships docked at the upper pylons. One shuttle bay gaped open. Lights illuminated about half the station, and flickered off and on in other sections, though there was nothing unusual about that. But he saw no tugs drifting amongst the outer space lanes. No freighters stood by at the cargo containers clustered on the dorsal side of the station. There was no real sign of life.
“Automated beacons are still on,” he said, pointing to the flashing lights near the empty docking ports.
“A trap,” Val whispered in his mind.
“Probably,” he said.
The automated docking procedure worked smoothly, linking with Mina, Chaykin’s computer, and guiding them in to Pylon 5 and transmitting the standard welcome greeting across the airlock speakers. It made them all the more suspicious.
Chaykin quickly suited up and checked the charge on his blaster. Val knocked on his visor to get his attention.
“Just so you know, if I don’t hear from you in twenty minutes, I’m outta here,” she said, her mouth twisting in a wry smile.
“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” he told her.
The airlock groaned and screeched with its normal grouchiness. Chaykin felt the normal shiver of the station beneath his feet, and according to the computer terminal near the interior airlock, station systems were nominal. The lights overhead flickered as he proceeded down the corridor and into the lift. As the lift swept him toward the main deck, he turned options over in his head. Pirates wouldn’t have left all the ships and goods behind. A war would have destroyed the place, or left behind a garrison. Nanobot rebellion?
“We already took care of the Binary Brigade,” Val reminded him. “I believe you made some crack about how you wouldn’t take yes or no for an answer.”
“Oh, yeah,” Chaykin muttered. He took cover against one side of the lift as it opened. The doors screeched apart, and a man who’d been leaning against them tumbled onto the floor at Chaykin’s feet. He lay still. Chaykin knelt and checked for vitals. Just like the station itself, everything seemed to be functioning. But no matter how much Chaykin shook him, the man remained unresponsive.
“This guy’s alive, Val,” he said. “You sure you’re not getting anything?”
Chaykin stepped from the lift, but immediately stopped in shock. The Central Deck stretched out in all directions. Shops were still lit, monitors still active. The televisions in the bar, not far from the Pylon 5 lift, silently played crossball matches from Terra while the stereo blasted the latest wretched industrial jazz punk. And everywhere he looked, the crew, inhabitants, and visitors of Kallaris Point slumped. They lay on the floors, sprawled across tables, slouched in chairs, and leaned awkwardly on railings and against walls. Just like the man in the lift, they were all alive. But none of them stirred at Chaykin’s presense. He experimentally kicked a few for good measure.
“What’s going on? Is it zombies?” Val asked. “I have a bet with Mina that it’s zombies.”
“Have Mina talk to the Kallaris computer,” Chaykin said. He picked his way amongst the bodies toward the bar. “Check the ventilation systems.”
A few moments later, Val thought a smile at him. “That’s it, boss. The place has been flooded with fharrin gas. Nonlethal, but it keeps you under indefinitely as long as you’re breathing it in. We’d better clear it out before these people start dying of thirst or something.”
“First things first,” Chaykin said. He leaned across the bar to shut off the stereo and grab a bottle of greenish swill. “Whoever set this up will show up soon. We’ll have to prepare a welcoming ceremony.”